The Meaning of ‘CIO Squared’ (Opinion)

Does “CIO Squared” carry the same meaning as “Chief Information Technology Officer?”

by / March 8, 2012
Andy Blumenthal, division chief, U.S. State Department Photo courtesy of Andy Blumenthal

An article recently published on CIO Magazine’s website  describes the term “CIO Squared” as “the combination of chief information officer and chief innovation officer,” and goes on to provide examples of CIOs who are both of these.

While I respect this definition of the term and think innovation is certainly critical to the success of any CIO — and for that matter any organization in our times — I have been writing a column called CIO Squared for a couple of years in Public CIO magazine and have other thoughts about what this really means.

Moreover, I think the article in CIO missed the point of what "squared" really implies.

Like the notion that 1+1=3, CIO Squared is a concept that the CIO is not just multifaceted and multitalented (that would be 1+1=2), but rather that the CIO integrates multiple facets, roles and synergizes so that they have an impact greater than the sum of the parts (i.e., 1+1=3).

I see CIO Squared fulfilling its potential in a couple of major ways:

First, many organizations have both a chief information officer (CIO) and a chief technology officer (CTO) — breaking the “information technology” concept and responsibility into its components and dividing the responsibility between two different people or different roles in the organization. One is responsible for the information needs of the business; the other brings the technology solutions to bear.

However, I believe, fundamentally, a truly successful CIO needs to be able to bridge both of these functions and wear both hats — and wear them well. The CIO should be able to work with the business to define and, moreover, envision their future needs to remain competitive and differentiated (that's the innovation piece). But at the same time, CIO also needs to be able to work toward fulfilling those needs with technology and other solutions.

Therefore, at some point the role split between the CIO as the "business guy" and the CTO as the "technology whiz" has to merge back into an executive who speaks both languages and can execute on these.

That does not mean that the CIO is a one-person team — quite the contrary, the CIO has the support and team that can plan and manage to both. But the CIO should remain the leader — the point of the spear — for both.

Another way to think of this is that CIO Squared is another name for chief information technology officer (CITO).

A second notion of CIO Squared that I had when putting that moniker out there for my column was that the CIO represents two other roles. On one hand, he or she is a consummate professional and business person dedicated to the mission and serving customer and stakeholders. On the other hand, the CIO needs to be a “mensch” — a decent human being with integrity, empathy and caring for others.

This notion of a CIO, or for that matter, any CXO — chief executive officer or the “X” representing any C-suite officer (CEO, COO, CFO, CHCO, etc.) — needs to be dual-hatted, where they perform highly for the organization delivering mission results, but simultaneously do so keeping in mind the impact on people and what is ultimately good and righteous.

Therefore, the CIO Squared is one who can encompass both the business and technology roles and synthesize these for the strategic benefit of the organization, but also one who is mission-focused and maintains integrity and oneness with his people and “G-d” above who watches all.

This column was reprinted with permission from Andy Blumenthal’s


Andy Blumenthal Contributing Writer

Andy Blumenthal is a division chief at the U.S. State Department. He was previously chief technology officer at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A regular speaker and published author, Blumenthal blogs at User-Centric Enterprise Architecture and The Total CIO. These are his personal views and do not represent those of his agency.